Sam has a little problem with authority. Always has. He used to take it out mostly on me and Steve, but as he has gotten older he has begun to spread the love a little more - to his teachers, his grandparents, anyone who would have the audacity to give him orders, or even politely ask him to do something.
He will be 12 years old in a few weeks. I know some of this behavior is typical of a preteen, but when we have struggled with him all his life it's hard to know what is "normal" and what isn't. Either way, there are some things that are just plain unacceptable. Unacceptable in our home, unacceptable at school or in society.
As an added bonus, Sam's moods are unpredictable. One minute he could be quietly working on a project with his sister, all lovey-dovey, and the next he is hollering about how unfair it is that emptying the dishwasher is on his chore list again.
He is also a negotiator. Read: manipulator. He's always trying to make deals with anyone who will listen. "I'll let you have my iPod for two days if you take the dog out for me" was a common one until Rachel finally realized that he will renege every time. He'll come up with some loophole like "well I didn't say when I'd let you have my iPod" and he will insist he hasn't truly defaulted on his end of the bargain, which of course sends Rachel into a tailspin. These kinds of things happen every day in our house. It's like a power play for Sam, a way to feel in control; he thinks life is so unfair and everyone is out to disappoint him, so he's going to get revenge by disappointing someone else.
As a parent, this is exhausting. We are always on guard, always trying to predict his next move, always feeling there must have been something we failed at to have caused him to be this way. OK, well that last one is mostly me, but still. I get frustrated because while Steve is working away from home he's not here to give Sam the evil eye or back me up on discipline or be a good male role model for Sam. Steve gets frustrated because ... well ... for the same reasons. He gets the phone calls from me saying "I've handled it as well as I know how, now what?"
I hate that it is this way, but when things appear to be going really good with Sam I start to wonder what's up. I try to be an optimist and not assume all the good is about to come crashing down, but I've been disappointed so many times I just throw up my hands in defeat when it finally happens. Because it will happen, and it did happen last night.
After an evening full of struggles over chores and homework and all the usual suspects, I finally tucked the kids into bed and sat down to get lost in some mindless TV. About 15 minutes later Sam calls me from his room. He needs me to sign something, he says.
He came out from his room and brought me a packet of papers containing details about how he had been disciplined at school for disrespecting and defying two of his teachers, not doing his work, and disrupting class. He would not be allowed back to his classes until he brought this packet back to school, signed by a parent.
I might as well start beating my head against a wall. I swear it would accomplish more than trying to get this kid to make good choices.
We had a chat. He shed some tears. I sent him back to bed with the promise that I would be talking to his dad and together we would devise a plan to make Sam's life a living hell. (I'm kidding! Sort of.) I signed the papers and left them on the table for him to take back to school. I even put a check for his lunch money right on top of the pile so he wouldn't forget them. I set it all at his place at the table.
He took the check.
He did not take the papers.
Hear that? It's me beating my head against a wall.
More tomorrow ...